Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Blank Space by Taylor Swift

After months of not writing about music, leave it to Taylor to bring me back into the conversation.

Taylor Swift’s newest album 1989 is a reminder that Taylor Swift still has got it. People have been critical of the fact that this album, produced by Max Martin (the genius behind Britney Spear’s greatest hits) is not a country album. That is true, but so what?  Many of the greatest country singers of all time, like Kenny Rogers, charted on the pop charts and many of them deliberately recorded pop music in an effort to be more than a country artist.

Taylor Swift broke big in 2008 with “Love Story” (which I wrote about in this previous post). While this continues to be my favorite song by Swift and easily in my top 10 pop songs of all time, I appreciate and respect Swift’s evolution as an artist in the past six years.

“Blank Space” one of her strongest songs on 1989, reflects her growth as not only an artist but a self-aware and thoughtful public figure.

Swift knew that she would be criticized for diving so deeply into pop music so she led with “Shake It Off,” which was a hilarious but also inspiring response to the criticisms that she knew she would receive. Just like “Blank Space,” “Shake It Off,” is a song that people claim to not like but can’t get enough of because of its musical invention and intriguing message.

We live in a world where gender stereotypes are still strong in interpersonal relationships and this is so often illustrated in pop music. “Blank Space” is an exception taking common ideas and stereotypes and forcing us to reexamine them.

Swift as the narrator tells about all of the possibilities of a relationship. It could go well and as she sings “could go down in flames.” This idea, the potential failure of a relationship is suppose to leave people petrified, but Swift is undaunted. She still is excited about the possibility of a relationship even though she’s been hurt in the past. We aren’t supposed to look at relationships this way. If a relationship doesn’t last forever and ends with both people dying at the exactly same time when they are elderly, it’s a failure, right?

That’s what many of us are told, and with that attitude, we fear the bad possibilities that could happen which petrify us into not being ourselves, and not truly being with and for the people we love. “Blank Space” is asking us to break this down, embrace the bad with the good and just enjoy the uncertainty, revel in the unknown, because that’s what living life and loving others is really all about.

Swift admits to having a “long list of lovers.” Shock and awe. She admits to loving “players.” She sings about being “reckless.” Is she communicating an irresponsible approach to love? No, she is being honest about what life is like for many women her age. In a world where many people have yet to see “slut-shaming” as a pervasive and insidious problem in our society, Swift has given voice to woman who will not be made to be ashamed for playing the “game,” which men rarely receive shamming for embracing.

The bridge “boys only want love if it’s torture,” invites us to ask some important questions. In its repetition, it’s placing the stereotype that woman embrace and create drama and placing it on the guys. It’s not clear if she thinks guys only want love so that they can feel drama or if they want to be instigators of “torture.” If she is saying the latter, than she is warning girls about the misogynist power structure many guys still inject into their relationships with woman. If she is simply saying that guys enjoy drama as much as girls do then, bravo, because while not all boys are like this, many really do bring on the drama.

Taylor Swift’s “blank space,” represents embracing the possibilities of love. Along with this, the song itself expresses a level of pride in what it means to not be ashamed of what we desire in our love life and the choices we make as we live our lives.

Like great pop music, Taylor Swift is more powerful than she appears. Her long list of “Starbucks lovers” I mean um . . . “list of ex-lovers” may be right. Swift may be insane, but she might also be the most one of the important voices of her generation.

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